Ofcom dithers over plans to tackle broadband slamming

9 Feb 2012
broadband cables

Proposals to make it easier to switch to a new ISP have been set back by a year

Ofcom has revealed another consultation document on broadband and landline switching - but there's little prospect of any action before 2014.

The Ofcom proposals aim to make it easier for consumers to switch from one broadband provider to another, and to prevent so-called "slamming" - when consumers are switched without their permission.

However, the process has already taken a year longer than expected - and there's still work to be done.

In September 2010, Ofcom proposed flipping the current system, so such switches were no longer managed by the ISP the customer was moving from, but the company they were joining, in the hopes of encouraging better service. Or, in Ofcom's jargon, it suggested moving from a losing-provider led (LPL) process to a gaining-provider led (GPL) one.

Many people think that the current systems are too difficult and unreliable which is why we have made it one of our priorities to tackle this problem

At that time, Ofcom said a second consultation would happen by the middle of 2010, with a final plan unveiled by the end of 2011.

Instead, Ofcom has only unveiled that second consultation today. It is set to close in April, with a spokesperson saying a draft document will be released this autumn and a "rough" timeline suggesting the final plans will be released at the end of the year or early 2013.

Rolling out the changes could take another year and a half. A joint letter to Ofcom regarding the consultation from BT, Sky, Virgin and Zen Internet suggested fully rolling out their own proposed solution would take 18 months from its approval, with some "retail facing" improvements happening sooner - however that didn't include moving to a GPL solution, which would take longer.

A spokesperson for Ofcom said the consultation delay was because so many interested parties, including industry figures and consumer rights groups, wanted their say.

Indeed, the letter from the ISPs claimed Ofcom's Switching Working Group has "not afforded sufficient time" to examining less expensive, time-consuming alternatives, saying Ofcom's proposals presented at a July meeting could cost £50-£100 million to implement, calling the suggested move to a GPL system "disproportionate".

This second consultation does include some new ideas, notably a proposal for a third-party verification process, that would double check customers are getting the services they want when they switch providers.

“Smooth switching processes are essential to ensure that consumers can change providers with confidence," said Ofcom's CEO Ed Richards. "Many people think that the current systems are too difficult and unreliable which is why we have made it one of our priorities to tackle this problem."

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